OUR GANG WAS YOUR GANG
Our Gang has a nice ring, the two words brought together the best of American boyhood and the timeless adventures of my childhood.The television and the movie series pitted scruffy, mischievous ” have not kids” against snobbish rich kids, sissy kids, and hardened class conscious adults to create the premise for the series. In my neighborhood of “have not” kids, I faced some of the same challenges to making fun. Follow along as the characters of Our Gang are revisited, you may recollect “Your Gang” of friends.
The “Our Gang” series was most notable for being one of the first productions in cinematic history in which blacks and whites were portrayed as equals. Our Gang made a greater impact on my life, than did some of the American heroes of the day; Jackie Robinson, Otto Graham, Jackie Gleason, Walt Disney, Willie Mays ,and Dwight Eisenhower. Because personally, the” Little Rascal” characters showed me how to get along with other kids, regardless of their size, shape, habits, language, or culture. I had plenty of characters in my neighborhood on which to practice their lessons and adventures..
My friends mirrored the characters in the children’s series; the “freckled faced kid,” the “fat kid,” the “neighborhood bully,” the “pretty brunette girl,” and the “mischievous younger ling. Sit back and relax, as you revisit the characters of Our Gang.
Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas’ (1931-1980) his character evolved into a boy after Stymie left the series in 1935. Buckwheat had a speech impediment as a child, which added to the natural, real appeal to the series. Buckwheat and Stymie were starring in Hollywood roles at the height of “Jim Crow.” Hal Roach loved to show children at play, the misadventures of a bunch of little kids charmed movie audiences and helped Americans to see how the kids treated one other as equals on and off the screen.
Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer (1927-1959), his character was often called upon to sing off-key renditions of popular songs, most often those of Bing Crosby. Alfalfa sported a cowlick, his popularity surpassed George “Spanky” McFarland by the end of 1937. He was dubbed “Alfalfa” at his first audition most likely by Hal Roach. In his role, he was the enterprising “idea man” he introduced the story line to the audience.
George “Spanky” McFarland (1928-1993), he was discovered at the age of three, in 1931, he became a key member of the Our Gang children’s series and a Hollywood star. He retired from filming Our Gang short films in 1942, Spanky was the chubby short-pants schemer and catalyst behind much of the hanky-panky in the “Our Gang” adventures.
Darla Hood (1931-1979), was best known as the leading lady in the Our Gang series from 1935-1941. She made her debut in Our Gang Follies of 1936. In her most memorable performance , she sang “I’m in the Mood for Love,”in The Pinch Singer. Hood’s final appearance was in 1941’s Wedding Worries.
Eugene “Porky” Lee (1933-2005), Hal Roach noticed how much the eighteen-month old toddler looked like Our Gang star Spanky McFarland, he hired him and gave him his nickname of “Porky.” At six years old, Porky grew several inches in height. Hal Roach observed that he was the same height as Spanky, then ten years old. Because of his size, Porky was replaced with one Mickey Gubitosi, better known by the stage name as Robert Blake.
William “Froggy” Laughlin (1932-1948), he rose to fame at the age of eight when he debut with The New Pupil (1940). He was known for his strange, guttural voice, which sounded like a frog’s croak
Allen Clayton “Farina” Hoskins (1920-1980), was most famous for portraying the character of Farina in (105) Our Gang short films from 1921-1931. He was discovered while attending the “Little Red School House” on the set of the Hal Roach Studio. Hoskins became the first black child star, and was paid $350 a week, more than any other cast member at the time. He outgrew the series in 1931. He was replaced by Matthew “Stymie” Beard.
John Cooper Jr. (1922-2011), he joined Our Gang in the short Boxing Gloves in 1929. His most notable Our Gang short films explored his crush on Miss Crabtree, the schoolteacher. In 1931 he starred in Skippy for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor at the age on nine years old. Cooper went on to become one of the greatest stars in Hollywood.
Thomas Ross “Butch” Bond (1926-2005), Tommy was hired to work in Our Gang in 1931. He filled the role of the Our Gang bully, the Butch character regularly competed with meek Alfalfa for the affection of his sweetheart, Darla.
Petey was well known for having a circled eye that was added on by Hollywood make-up artist Max Factor
Stymie” Beard (1925-1981), with his trademark bowler hat and bald head, Stymie was as popular as Spanky, Alfalfa, and Darla. One of his memorable lines was: “I don’t know brother, but we’re on our way.” Beard’s paycheck was used to support his Los Angeles family, including thirteen brothers and sisters. Buckwheat replaced Stymie in 1935.
June Marlowe (1903-1984), as Miss. Crabtree was discovered one day in Los Angeles in a department store, Hal Roach hired her to be the schoolteacher in the Our Gang series. She wore a blonde wig to complement leading star, Jackie Cooper. Marlowe and Cooper were paired in three Our Gang films, Teacher’s Pet, School’s Out, and Love Business. Jackie had a crush on her and became jealous when any of the other characters sought out her affection.
An “OUR GANG” insight into Life:
My “Our Gang” years in Cleveland, Ohio, provided some slapstick humor that created a childhood filled with unforgettable characters and many hours of laughter. All was not so funny at times. The Little Rascals motivated and inspired some crazy, foolish behavior from my gang; such behavior worried the adults with visible results. Their worried minds resulted in foreheads covered with beads of perspiration and noticeable streaks of gray hair covering their heads. In short, our fun was their worry.
Looking back to my early years as a follower of the Our Gang series, I came to some understandings about the neighborhood in which I lived. First, that prejudice was a real thing, but that I had a choice about being bias, especially after seeing children of the series sharing, cooperating, and collaborating freely to have fun. Also; that children (self) are not born with a prejudicial bone in their body, they are taught such things by adults. Futhermore, that the undiscovered idea that cultural differences could be bridged was a discovery learned by watching”The Little Rascals.” It changed my early life choices and showed me the endless possibilities for childhood frendships.
Hal Roach with his natural approach to directing allowed the child actors to be themselves, he was the inspiration in my childhood who illustrated and guided my inner child toward the value of being– my authentic self. In effect, the Our Gang series served as a form of on-going parenting that healed and spiritually fed my inner child in a very wholesome and loving way.
If you were one of those kids who made the “Little Rascals” a part of your day, leave your comments to share with “Our Gang.”
Any further words regarding the adult years of these matinee idols will remain silent for now.